College Basketball Power Rankings: 25 Biggest Characters in CBB History

Andy BrownAnalyst IIJune 29, 2011

College Basketball Power Rankings: 25 Biggest Characters in CBB History

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    To say that college basketball has seen its fair share of characters would be like saying only a few people were surprised that Virginia Commonwealth made it to the Final Four last year.

    According to, character, in the sense that will be used to form this ranking, is defined as: an odd, eccentric, or unusual person.

    If you want a one-word definition, I'd go with unique. Unique in the sense that chances are we'll never see a similar version of such player/coach/announcer.

    Whether it's by their mannerisms, accomplishments, look, personality or temper, the following 25 people (in somewhat random order) will be forever remembered.

John Chaney

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    One of the more decorated coaches in college basketball history and also one of the coaches with the worst temper.

    He's notorious for sending in a player to purposely commit hard fouls back in 2005 against St. Joe's, which resulted in John Chaney being suspended by the University of Temple for the remainder of the season. He retired the following year.

    Chaney brought Temple to national prominence during his 24 years at the university and is probably best known for threatening the life of the next man on this list...

John Calipari

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    Probably, no coach has ever gotten away with more involving the NCAA than John Calipari.

    At the University of Massachusetts, where his life was threatened by John Chaney during a postgame press conference (YouTube it), he took the Minutemen to the Final Four, but it's since been revoked after their star, Marcus Camby, was found to have received improper benefits.

    After an ill-advised trip to the NBA, Calipari returned to the college ranks at Memphis, where once again, he took the team to the Final Four, but the trip was, again, taken away due to issues with his star player, Derrick Rose's, SAT score.

    Before those sanctions could affect Calipari, he bolted to Kentucky where's he's become the best recruiter in the country. His ability to get players to the NBA is rivaled by few, as are his Houdini-like escapes from sanctions by the NCAA.

DeMarcus Cousins

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    Easily the craziest Calipari recruit, DeMarcus Cousins was, and still is, a five-year-old trapped in a monster's body during his only year at Kentucky. 

    His interactions with Calipari were always fun to watch.

The Fab Five

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    I wish I was born early enough to remember this legendary recruiting class. These kids started a revolution unlike anything ever seen. Led by future NBA stars Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber, they were young, brash and full of confidence even though they were only freshmen.

    The now common look of long shorts and dark socks can be partially credited to this crew.

    Making it to the national championship game in their first two seasons (and only two in which all five were together) is an accomplishment not seen since, and neither is Chris Webber's brilliant decision to call a timeout when they didn't have any. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Larry Bird

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    Probably the antonym to the Fab Five would be the "hick from French Lick." Larry Bird was Stephen Curry times 100 during his time at Indiana State.

    A one-man show, Bird took the Sycamores to the 1979 championship game, one of the most memorable in history. He lost, but his legacy was cemented in the duel he had with the next man on this list...

Earvin "Magic" Johnson

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    It would be idiotic to include one, and not the other as their rivalry and bond began when they were amateurs in what was the most watched college basketball game in history.

    Magic will probably be the tallest point guard in college basketball history, and his infectious smile was even more so back as a young man.

Al McGuire

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    I'll admit that I had never heard of Al McGuire until recently, but from what I understand, the man was a good coach, leading Marquette to a couple Final Fours in the mid 1970s, and an even better commentator alongside Dick Enberg and Billy Packer.

    McGuire was part of the announce team for the famous Bird vs. Magic 1979 championship game.

Jimmer Fredette

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    If I were ranking this in order, Jimmer would be 25 due to his career having just ended months ago. Still, he captivated America for over a year, and unlike Stephen Curry, led his team to consecutive NCAA tournament berths, and made it to the Sweet 16 in his final season.

    The following and popularity he generated at BYU forced the university to ask him to leave campus. Not many college basketball players can say they had to do that.

Joakim Noah

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    Probably one of the weirdest looking players in history, Joakim Noah was the main guy during Florida's back-to-back championship run a few years ago.

    He wore his emotions on his sleeve, and many fans, including yours truly, couldn't stand his act. He was one of those players who you hate when he's on the other team, but love if he's wearing your team's uniform.

Pete Maravich

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    "Pistol" Pete Maravich was arguably the greatest scorer in NCAA history. He averaged over 44 points per game in only three seasons. Not because he declared for the NBA draft, but because during his collegiate career, freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity.

    Maravich was also unable to take advantage of the three-point line, as it had yet to be created. Because of his range, Maravich probably would have averaged over 50 points per game had the line been invented.

    He played more like a Harlem Globetrotter than a traditional college player, dribbling around defenders with ease and shooting shots that even Jimmer would think were crazy.

John Wooden

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    In my book, John Wooden is the greatest college basketball coach of all time. From winning a record 10 national championships to winning a men's record 88 consecutive games, Wooden accomplished everything there is to accomplish in coaching college basketball.

    His philosophies on coaching, and life, have developed into multiple books, and students at the school I work in are involved in something called "The Wooden Program" which focuses on the former coach's principles on life.

Bill Walton

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    Bill Walton was the key cog in the Bruins unthinkable 88-game winning streak before it ended during his senior season. He's best known for having scored 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting in the 1973 national championship game.

    Typically when people think of UCLA basketball, the first name that comes to mind is John Wooden, and the second is either Walton or Lew Alcindor.

    Considering Walton has become more of a personality in his later years, I'm guessing he was a similar type of guy during his time at UCLA.

John Thompson

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    At an imposing 6'10", Thompson was one of the tallest coaches in history. His Georgetown Hoyas were some of the best in the 1980s.

    Thompson's temper was constantly noticeable as was his towel that he wore during games to keep from sweating all over.

    In 1984, Thompson became the first African-American head coach to win a national championship.

Jerry Tarkanian

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    Another guy who clearly loved towels, Jerry Tarkanian was famous for biting into towels during tight situations and for bringing in questionable recruits.

    His UNLV squads of the early 1990s were arguably some of the most talented teams in the decade.

    Tarkanian's possibly most famous for his constant involvement in NCAA allegations. Not many other coaches have had more NCAA sanctions placed on them, and more court cases, than Tarkanian.

Phi Slamma Jamma

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    Led by future Hall of famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, Phi Slamma Jamma was the nickname for the University of Houston Cougars basketball team in the 1980s.

    Essentially, these guys were the 1980s version of the Fab Five. They played almost strictly above the rim and drove basketball purists nuts because of their high-flying, fast-paced gameplay.

    It's arguable that these guys started the up-tempo, above-the-rim style that has become so popular in college basketball.

    Unfortunately, this fraternity never made it to the promise land, losing to the NC State Wolfpack in the 1983 championship game.

Jim Valvano

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    The coach for the Wolfpack during that epic upset win over Phi Slamma Jamma? None other than this man, Jim Valvano.

    One of the best highlights in college basketball is after their win, when Valvano is running around the court looking for someone to embrace.

    Valvano's tragic death from cancer has been greatly publicized thanks to ESPN's involvement, and an annual college basketball event, the Jimmy V Classic, is held in his honor.

Don Haskins

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    If you haven't seen the movie Glory Road, do yourself a favor and watch one of the best basketball movies ever made.

    The movie is based on this man, Don Haskins, who became the first coach to ever start five African-American players and won the 1966 NCAA championship over powerhouse Kentucky, which started five white players.

    To have the fortitude to do something no one else ever attempted makes Haskins one of the braver people on this list.

Nolan Richardson

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    Nolan Richardson gained notoriety in the 1990s while at the University of Arkansas for using constant full-court pressure, known as "40 Minutes of Hell."

    No other coach has done it as effectively as Richardson, whose Razorbacks won the national championship in 1994 and then lost the title game in 1995.

    Richardson's exit from the university was well-publicized as he felt he was being treated unfairly for being African-American.

Gus Johnson

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    The only announcer on this list who wasn't a former coach, I think I speak for everyone in that when we heard Gus Johnson wouldn't be announcing NCAA tournament games next season, a little part of us died. 

    His unique style of announcing always had us excited for his games because we knew if the game was close, then Gus' head just might explode from the excitement. He will be truly missed.

Bill Raftery

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    Bill Raftery is less known for his coaching tenure at Seton Hall University than for his famous quote, "Send it in Jerome!"

    The quote occurred in 1988 when Pittsburgh player Jerome Lane broke the backboard on a dunk, and remains one of the most famous quotes in college basketball history.

    Raftery is also one of the few announcers I don't mute because he picks his spots when he gets excited rather than every 20 seconds (unlike a guy coming up), so he gets points for that as well.

Shaquille O'Neal

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    Before he was Wilt Chamberneezy, the Big Aristotle, and the Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most dominating forces in SEC basketball history.

    He wasn't nearly as charismatic in college as he was once he made it to the NBA, college kids are rarely given enough freedom to do so, but Shaq was still one of the more unique players to ever grace a college court.

    At 7'1" and ridiculously athletic, Shaq dominated opponents strictly from the paint (I don't think he ever believed in jump shots...or free throws), recording six triple-doubles, led the nation in rebounding his sophomore year and scored nearly 2,000 points in only three seasons.

Pete Carril

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    From the looks of it, Pete Carril looks like an old-timer who randomly wandered onto a basketball court. Yet, Carril was the coach for one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history, when his Princeton Tigers defeated the powerhouse UCLA Bruins in the first round in 1996. Fittingly, it was his final victory, as the Tigers lost in the next round and Carril retired after the season.

    What Carril is most famous for is the slow, methodical style of play known as the Princeton offense, which is based on backdoor cuts and many passes. Such institutions like Northwestern and Georgetown have taken up his style, with the Hoyas making it to the Final Four in 2007 using that style.

Bob Huggins

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    Bob Huggins is one of the more animated coaches currently in college basketball. He's also one of the most successful, having won over 600 games.

    His most notable tenure was at Cincinnati, where he brought them back to national relevance, but his apathy towards academic led to Huggins graduating very few players, which resulted in the school removing him from the program.

    Huggins eventually arrived in West Virginia, where he's yet to encounter any problems.

Bobby Knight

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    Honestly, I don't think there's any reason to say anything about the General. If you didn't expect to see him on this list, then you clearly know nothing about college basketball history.

Mike Krzyzewski

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    Love him or hate him, Coach K has become the face of college coaches since the General retired. He'll go down as the winningest coach in D-1, and maybe NCAA, history, and is the primary reason Duke is annually one of the top five teams in the country.

Dick Vitale

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    If you've ever watched a basketball game on ESPN, chances are you've heard Dick Vitale's voice.

    The guy is absolutely crazy, and there are days when I can't even stand the sight of Dicky V, but the man loves college basketball probably more than anyone in the business (or at least, he's more open about it).

    He's helped generate popularity in the sport, and while his analysis is often incoherent because he's yelling random catchphrases, his opinions are certainly interesting.